Exclusive interview for SPINOFF.COM with Dr. Ana Cristóvão, Founder of NeuroSoV, about neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's and stroke. Currently, NeuroSoV focuses on testing small molecules with therapeutic potential for Parkinson disease. The continuous aging of population offers the market space to grow and a consistent base of potential consumers. With this perspective, the investment by academia and pharma companies in the development of new drugs for Parkinson’s disease will grow, representing a great opportunity of new customers for NeuroSoV. It aims to increase its potential business to other neurological disorders, like Alzheimer's Disease and stroke. NeuroSoV is dedicated to evaluating preclinical neurotoxicity and the effectiveness of screening solutions for drugs for Parkinson’s and other ND diseases. The company already has several international clients in the area of the pharmaceutical industry.
SOC: Dear Dr. Ana Cristóvão, thank you for being available to spend time with us and sharing your insights about this exciting technology. Our investors would like to know more about how you came into this business, your interests, and your professional/scientific background.
Dr. Cristóvão: It was my scientific background that took me to the possibility of this business. I did my Ph.D. and postdoctoral training in the neuroscience, more specifically in Parkinson’s Disease (lat. Parkinson scriptor morbus), that gave me profound expertise in the analytic technology used in the field. Given my expertise, and over the time, I have been asked as collaborator/consultant to participate in several scientific projects both by academic laboratories and industry. That brought the idea to create NeuroSoV and start this knowledge-based business.
SOC: Given the breadth of the team’s experience, can you tell us about other projects that came before?
Dr. Cristóvão: During my training, I worked in several R&D projects aiming to better understand Parkinson disease pathology in order to better develop new therapeutic approaches. Those projects were financed by the NIH, the MjFox Foundation and by Centro 2020 Portugal.
SOC: Would you say something about how you approach your research work? Currently, at what stage is your research, and how far away are you from commercialization? Was your project funded by public money, government funding, etc?
Dr. Cristóvão: Currently, my research is focused on testing small molecules with therapeutic potential for Parkinson disease. We have isolated one molecule showing a strong potential to prevent Parkinson's Disease, that we are developing for its pre-clinical validation. Once the validation is finished, we aim to make available the molecule to a potential interest pharmaceutical company to perform the clinical trials.
SOC: For every successful scientific spinoff, one of the most important keys to success is having the right team. For many investors, the management team can be the key criteria for deciding whether to invest or not. Would you please tell us a little about the team which has supported this project so far? How are you looking to expand the team in the short term?
Dr. Cristóvão: So far the main person working at NeuroSoV is me and, whenever it is needed, a research technician with a strong background in Parkinson's disease. NeuroSov has been helped by UBIMedical, the University incubator/accelerator for researcher's spinoffs. The next step in increasing NeuroSoV staff will pass through the hiring one more technician with specialized training (master) in Parkinson's disease, an administrator and possibly a manager.
SOC: What problem did you intend to solve by creating this technology/product? What results do you plan to achieve?
Dr. Cristóvão: Presently, the drugs applied for Parkinson's Disease treatment are symptomatic, that is, they only treat the symptoms. Therefore, new therapeutic approaches are being developed to prevent its progression or treat the disease. The new drugs that are under development require Pre-clinical validations using in vitro and in vivo models of the human disease, requiring to the teams that develop these new drugs to have specific know-how on these tools and both human and equipment resources. Additionally, more than 60% of new drugs fail in phase 2, highlighting the importance of strong preclinical validation tests of drugs efficacy before clinical trials. This represents an opportunity, NeuroSoV focuses its activities on preclinical in vitro and in vivo drug efficacy studies to offer better predictability and anticipate clinical results providing state of the art methodologies to perform such validations.
SOC: What are the USPs of your technology and fundamental differences from other technologies that have tried to solve this problem before you?
Dr. Cristóvão: The products/services provided by NeuroSoV are performed based on the same high-quality parameters used in scientific research that are validated by peer-reviewer and that I have used all-over my professional life. They are other companies in the market that offer similar services. Since we are not using the same models, we may complement but not overlap.
SOC: To get a better understanding of your company, could you explain to investors what is the investment structure of the company? Do you still own the controlling stake in your spinoff?
Dr. Cristóvão: Being the founder I have the full control of the company.
SOC: What is the actual addressable market currently for your invention and who are the current competitors? Could you please share with us the results of the market studies, if there are any? What are the barriers to entry?
Dr. Cristóvão: According to the Global Parkinson’s disease drug market forecast for 2018-2028 performed by Visiongain (2018), Parkinson’s disease market has vast potential. The continuous aging of population offers the market space to grow and a consistent base of potential consumers. In general, the market of Parkinson’s disease is expected to grow with a CAGR of 6,6 % from 2018-2028. With this perspective, the investment by academia and pharma companies in the development of new drugs for Parkinson’s disease will grow, representing a great opportunity of new customers for NeuroSoV.
Many companies are trying to develop and introduce new Parkinson’s disease treatments to the market. These include Sanofi, Acorda Therapeutics's Inbrija, Prothena Corporation's PRX002, AstraZeneca's MEDI1341, Edison Pharma's Vatiquinone, Prexton Therapeutics' Foliglurax and Prana Biotechnology's PBT434. These companies may be future clients for NeuroSoV. Currently, NeuroSov seeks investors to support the initial stages of business creation, marketing and an introduction of the business concept both nationally and internationally.
SOC: It seems you are describing a potentially sizable market opportunity for this spinoff. What in your opinion will sustain your company’s continued growth? What might your product range look like as you grow, and how do you plan to develop your markets?
Dr. Cristóvão: At this point, NeuroSoV is dedicated to Parkinson's Disease. Nevertheless, it aims to increase its potential business to other neurological disorders, like Alzheimer's Disease (lat. Morbus Alzheimerianus) and stroke (lat. Apoplexia).
SOC: Potential investors will be curious if you already have your first clients and signed contracts? What was the feedback from these clients, partners, and customers?
Dr. Cristóvão: Neurosov already has the first clients, it has presently 3 customers. These are a Pharma Company, academic laboratories at Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, US and at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, US. With the first one, there was only MTA signed, a budget involved and the payment delivered to our university. What about to the last two clients, there was a payment in materials and consumables to our laboratory. Their feedbacks are extremely favorable as we provided the service as they need it and as they intended to.
SOC: Reaching positive cash flow is important for young companies. Certainly, the market scaling cannot be achieved without proper distributor networks and clients. Please tell us about your criteria for selecting partners and which markets are open for spinoff activity.
Dr. Cristóvão: Neurosov is involved in a huge market as many companies are trying to develop and introduce new Parkinson’s disease treatments to the market. As I mentioned, these include Sanofi, Acorda Therapeutics's Inbrija, Prothena Corporation's PRX002, AstraZeneca's MEDI1341, Edison Pharma's Vatiquinone, Prexton Therapeutics' Foliglurax and Prana Biotechnology's PBT434. These can and should work with our services acting as our possible clients. As so, we must establish contacts with pharma companies and academic laboratories who work with neurosciences and neurodegenerative diseases. For us to scale up and grow for sure we need the support of an investor due to the size of the market and the needed investment in this sort of activity and field.
SOC: I want to understand your particular vision and the unique features of your company. Why do you think major market players might be interested in investing in your technology/product?
Dr. Cristóvão: As I noted before, the drugs applied to Parkinson's disease treatment are symptomatic, that is, they only treat the symptoms. Therefore, new therapeutic approaches are being developed to prevent its progression or treat the disease. The new drugs that are under development require Pre-clinical validations using in vitro and in vivo models of the human disease, requiring to the teams that develop these new drugs to have specific know-how on these tools and both human and equipment resources. This represents NeuroSoV the opportunity to offer this service providing state of the art methodologies to perform such validations. The major market players will be interested in investing in our technology because we provide the answers to the gaps mentioned.
SOC: What is it about (name of company/product) that makes your scientific process, your R&D strategy, production, distribution, and marketing processes unique? Where does your core strength lie?
Dr. Cristóvão: We use specific innovative techniques used in the field of neurosciences, in animal models of neurodegenerative diseases. We have the specific knowledge on how to deliver molecules in specific areas of the rodents brain, on the assessment of the neuroprotector or toxic potential of these molecules in vivo, and on the validation in vitro assays and in ex vivo cultures of isolated cells of rodents brain.
SOC: As a rule, the majority of successful spinoffs grow into exits. How do you evaluate the dynamics in your industry, and how will you determine when is the right time to exit? What is the market cap that your company can reach at its peak development and why? How long might this process take?
Dr. Cristóvão: Pharma companies have specific times to enter, grow and exit. The market is huge but competition is huger. The pharmaceutical sector is largely a long-term play that can offer massive benefits with the right technologies and smart research. This is the route that Neurosov wants to pursue, to be in the market for at last 15 years and then exit by choosing the most intelligent strategy, either by IPO or M&A. The biggest pharmaceutical companies dominate the space thanks to their wide reach and resources. Neurosov can be a mid cap company in this arena and with the right reach and resources enter the game by providing services to the biggest players. At the present time, Neurosov is still in an early stage.
SOC: For spinoff companies, protecting intellectual property is critical to success and investors pay particular attention to this. What key intellectual property does your company have (patents, patents pending, copyrights, trade secrets, trademarks, domain names)?
Dr. Cristóvão: Neurosov is in the process of submitting the first patent for a small molecule. It will be soon involved in the trademark registry as well.
SOC: For both of us, as well as for thousands of successful spinoffs, it's not a secret that a new technological breakthrough may become obsolete very fast, especially with the expiry of patent life. What is your plan to maintain technological leadership in the medium and long-term?
Dr. Cristóvão: Our plan to maintain leadership in our field of technology is to improve our resources and knowledge continuously, evolving to other neurodegenerative diseases, protecting our molecules and methodologies.
SOC: Investors will want to get a clear picture of how many rounds of investments will be needed, and where you are in the process? Are you seeking investments at this moment? How much are you looking to raise, and by when? What milestones are you targeting to achieve with proceeds of each investment round?
Dr. Cristóvão: The promoter is looking for an investor to support the initial stages of business creation, marketing, clients prospection and an introduction of the business concept both nationally and internationally. For starting Neurosov is seeking for capital to the first round - product development (therapeutic application of new specific inhibitor formulations), the second round - marketing and clients prospection and the third round - internationalization route.
SOC: Could you please describe your ideal investor? What aspects are important to you? For instance, is it experience, country, the amount of private capital or maybe some personal qualities? Will existing investors participate in this round?
Dr. Cristóvão: NeuroSoV's ideal investor should have expertise and knowledge in the pharma sector, years of accumulated knowledge with the major players in the field, should have knowledge in market, finances and strategy.
SOC: Our last question. How would you like to receive inquiries from potential investors? Should this be by e-mail or a personal phone call?
Dr. Cristóvão: We are interested in receiving contacts either by email, phone or video calls. We can even meet personally if interesting for both parties.